Is your power on or off?
You might find yourself instantly checking that your lights haven’t gone out and your electronic gadgets are still functioning. If you are, that makes sense, but that’s not the type of power I’m referring to.
In this culture, with our over-emphasis on the left-brain “doing” tendencies, power is often thought of as the ability to reign superior over another in order to get our needs met. The truth is, that is only one type, and it is critical that we understand the cost of functioning in the different levels of power, as well as what is at stake when we do.
This article will talk about three types of power: Personal Power, Power With, and Power Over. You see, power is so much more than the ability to “be in charge.” It is a critical aspect of how we function as human beings. How we relate to it– both personally and as a dynamic in relationships– is critical. It is a huge player in our energy, our motivation, our mood, our communities, and our ability to be effective and successful in our work.
Three Types of Power
In the book, Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenburg, he describes power (what I call Personal Power) as “having the capacity to take effective action to meet needs. Effective action entails having both material and emotional access to strategies to meet needs.” In an ideal world, everyone would feel a sense of this, which would lead to feeling a relative sense of safety and autonomy in our lives. Yes, problems might happen (as they do in this world), but we would know we have access to what we need in order to deal with things.
Most of us do not come into this world in an “ideal world” way. As a result, it’s safe to say that a lot of us do not always feel we do have access to this kind of ideal empowerment.
Because of this hard reality, two things tend to happen: (1) Many people constantly feel unsafe (unable to access a sense of safety) and (2) Many people constantly feel threatened (and no, surprisingly they aren’t the same thing – who knew?!)
And what happens when someone doesn’t feel safe and also feels threatened? They need to defend themselves.
Insert dynamic number two.
Power Over is defined as the capacity to coerce others to give us what we want even if it doesn’t meet their needs.
And while this certainly can be an effective way of staying safe and getting needs met, in my opinion, it is actually intended as a short-term survival skill. It was never meant to be how power was defined by an entire culture– no more than we are meant to function as though we are constantly at war.
It is a defensive stance, one that is triggered when we do not feel safe, and it is a dynamic that both creates and demands a state of hyperarousal in the body in order to exist.
Sadly, many of us raised in this culture see it as the only type of power available to us, and as a result, we live our lives seeking this state and then trying to maintain it.
In the interest of this remaining a blog post and not becoming a dissertation, I am going to give you the Cliff Notes Version of how this turns out for us.
Wait for it…. Really. Badly.
Power Over dynamics are counter intuitive and destructive towards constructs such as community, relationships, connection, and personal health (yes, this is bad for our bodies – lots and lots of stress hormones needed in order to keep this up long term).
And we, as humans, need each of these things in order to thrive in a world we share with one another.
So, let’s get back to this ideal world, where everyone has a sense of their own personal power and is able to be their own “inner-leader.” In this world, people aren’t as afraid of losing their resources. In fact, they know they can access those resources within whenever they want. At this point, they are safe enough to move into the third type of power.
Power With is the capacity to meet our needs in a way that allows and invites others to meet their needs, thereby enabling us to meet more of our collective needs in the long run. Isn’t that a brilliant thought? If I could trust that my needs would be met, then I could focus on making sure everyone’s needs are met. Win/Win, really, as this creates a happier, healthier environment for us all.
Shifting Your View
I write tirelessly about how the imbalance in our culture affects us mentally and emotionally, and this is a perfect example of how a cultural “norm” undermines everyone. When we are taught that Power Over is actually the definition of what it is to be powerful at all – instead of being taught to claim Personal Power so that we can feel safe enough to experience Power With dynamics, we all suffer.
Healing your old beliefs, questioning what you were taught by our culture and other systems, and having the courage to heal is not just about you. It’s about all of us. If we aren’t doing the work to change, to create that inner alchemy that takes one thing and turns it into something entirely different and new, then how does change happen?
The Inner Alchemy Podcast explores all kinds of ways to tap into your personal empowerment for pursuit of the life you want to live. I invite you to listen for insights from some of my favorite healers and helpers.